Aliens are attacking the world. They obviously despise our hamburger devouring, war mongering and TV addicted asses and want to go permanently camping in your grandma’s backyard.
Luckily, there’s a secret agency that knew about them all along and has made preparations for us smart apes to fight off these ugly, reptilian like beings. Their tech is at least a century ahead of ours, meaning they can easily vaporize us to hell… But, being the versatile creatures we are, we can adapt and we can learn from their knowledge by collecting aliens dead or alive and pieces of their equipment. This agency is called X-COM, and it operates worldwide. Countries around the world support X-COM depending on their panic level. Meaning that people who are panicking generally aren’t going to make wise choices, and surely don’t follow orders anymore. The main goal is to fight off the aliens and know what the hell we ever did to them to kill us and why they need to be on this God forsaken hellhole… -aside from obvious reasons like GTA5, Hollywood, a click away porn, fast-food, beer, Johnny Cash music, Honolulu, the Spice Girls, NSFW jokes, Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber.
This all happens in a modern, just around the corner timeframe where we are not even that unready to confront them… Meaning we are always at war amongst ourselves. They surprise attack us, but we did know they did exist (like we know in real life, apart from ex-Darwinians and newly born faith finders). We only didn’t know it would happen now.
UFO or X-COM games are turn based tactical role-playing games, where you are the commander of an army of scattered units from around the world in squads to counter the alien invasion. Each mission is different and requires very good cooperation between the soldiers you choose for your squad. The challenge is to let nobody perish and to get as many live or dead aliens, weapon parts and the like, this while being constantly suppressed by the aliens. The soldiers in your squad preferably survive each confrontation, because they gain experience and grow in skills and in rank. They have five classes, get better and stronger due to experience and get equipped more evenly because of new raw materials stripped of the aliens themselves.
While it’s nice to have your units grow better, you must add rookies to your squad because soldiers get wounded and thus are unavailable because of it.
See the video below for an impression of how the last reboot (2012, getting very good reviews) looks like to give you an idea.
Anyway, this review is about The Bureau: X-COM Declassified. It’s a game set in more or less the same universe (I’ll get to that) of the original X-COM series, only in the middle of the Cold War, the space race and the Area 51/Roswell thing. It’s 1962, everybody chain-smokes, JFK is still alive, the flower power age, the sexual revolution and the hippies are probably never going to happen and going to the Moon is still something unheard of.
You’re William Carter, a very well known alpha male CIA agent stereo type who gets flown in to solve problems. Remember the turn based game style, where you must give orders to your band of soldiers to survive the battle? Well, William Carter is the commander, so to speak, and you have agents –live, no turns- you must command in game. This is a new experience all together and it allows you to play variable kind of sessions. Like in the ‘old’ game, you have a squad with you and they have classes and special abilities. Because this isn’t turn based, you must control your units real time.
In game, you can pop up the Battle Focus Mode, which is a big word for just a command screen. This allows you to command your men, including targeting particular foes or apparatuses. Carter himself is equipped with an arm brace with alien tech which allows him to take tactical steps. For example, he can ‘force lift’ aliens in the air, making them vulnerable to attacks. All the supporting agents offer their special abilities, and also gain levels like the soldiers in the modern time set X-COM: Enemy Unknown. They can call in support from the air, heal, place bombs, destroy vehicles, you name it. This third-person viewed tactical type of gaming feels fresh, though sometimes the Battle Focus Mode feels a little weird, especially when the agents are screaming for directions.
‘Think for yourself, you bloody bastard’, is what you will think sometimes. But they won’t. Later on, you’ll need the Battle Focus Mode because things can really heat up. You’ll need some time to get used to it, but it’ll stick.
That’s where hardcore X-COM gamers will call break or even. At first, I felt like the commanding, tactical and strategic planning thing wasn’t going to work out. I mean, after all, you could just go in guns a blazing’, with absolutely no regard for your partners. But they won’t think for themselves, and later on, you don’t want that. On the other hand, why add all these options while it is completely possible to create this game simply based on 3rd person killing aliens Max Payne style? Well, it wouldn’t be X-COM without it, because after the annoying getting-to-know-you standards, it actually feels X-COM as well, only live from another perspective.
The Bureau has an emphasis on squad-based tactics. Agents have customizable outfits, weapons, equipment and abilities. Like X-COM: EU, they can perish and suffer definite death and if Carter is unable to revive agents who have taken too much damage, they will die.
The development of this game is something worth mentioning. All together, it took more than six years to get the whole idea running, including the loss of several key persons. After some seats changed, the game finally came under the control of 2K games, which had two separate studios working on the project. The overall idea was that the X-COM universe would be used and played from a different perspective, not only visually, but also from a different time frame, different game play and a completely new experience. It’s supposed to be re-imagining of a game with a decent fan base.
Some of the things that were meant to be in the game have survived, like the 50s and 60s timeframe, the CIA and the agents, the well known sex toys eh Sectoids (the Grays) and more.
Such as the base management. In the ‘ant farm’ style base of the last X-COM game, you have to manage your men, aircraft, research, resources and so on. In The Bureau: X-COM Declassified, you get to manage the bureau, which –of course- is an earlier adaptation of the futuristic version of the base. Meaning you’ll need to research in the field, upgrade your units and set out the missions needed for success.
To conclude, this is a pretty good game with a real tactical challenge, reasonable enough to play and even more so if you’re a fan of the series. If you ignore crappy graphics and corny usage of movement in conversations, you can have some good fun. It even has some Mass Effect effects in it. You know, telling your team what to do, having conversations, taking strategic steps, retrying missions to do it just a tad better and so on.
To me, it never gets near the experience of the traditional X-COM games, but is a game worth finishing on its own. The overall atmosphere –especially related to the earlier games- is a great success, it actually feels the same, you know it’s X-COM, but it’s also different in refreshing ways. Even when there are slight ‘universal’ incoherencies, -like that humanity learns libraries full of information in 1962, and need to learn/research everything AGAIN in 2015- it all feels good. This all being set in the days of ‘Invasion of the Body snatchers´, ‘The brain from outer space’. Coolness.
I must say, writing this review makes me realize it’s a better game than I expected. They wanted to make X-COM meets X Files in the mid 20th century… I can say they really succeeded, especially after originally being set up different, having three possible pitches the game was going before going in definite development as yet another idea. Overall, this is something worth playing, especially considering the back story. It’s not a blockbuster game and with all the current gen masterpieces coming out this year alone it will probably disappear in the cheap section of ‘last year’s games’ soon. As a fan, you must play it now. If not, give it a try. It will surprise you.
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